The DWP is facing Universal Credit court action from over 150 people

The Royal Courts of Justice and the DWP logo
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This article was updated at 12:50pm on Friday 21 February to reflect an error. It previously stated that the DWP was “appealing” a third separate case, which was detailed in another article. This was incorrect. The DWP is currently fighting this case, and  the claimants are asking it to concede before it gets to court. 

The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) is facing yet another legal case. But this time is different. Because a group over 150 disabled people are taking action against it. And the law firm acting for them want more people affected to come forward.

The DWP: universal chaos

As The Canary previously reported, the DWP has been in court over Universal Credit. It relates to sick and disabled people losing money when they move onto the new benefit. Enhanced Disability Premiums (EDP) and Severe Disability Premiums (SDP) are benefits that give disabled people with high support needs extra money. But under Universal Credit, they don’t exist. Instead, claimants get different payments based on their circumstances.

But the loss of EDPs and SDPs has been contentious. In a case in the High Court, a claimant argued that they lost nearly £180 a month when the DWP put them on Universal Credit. This was because they had a change of circumstance. The claimant moved house.

The DWP had put in place so-called ‘transitional protections‘. It claimed these would protect claimants from losing money by topping up their payments. But these ‘protections’ don’t protect everyone. Not least, they don’t apply to claimants who’ve had a change of circumstance. Nor do they apply to new claimants. And they never covered the full £180.

“Discriminatory” and “unlawful”

A judge partially agreed with the claimant and their law firm Leigh Day. They ruled that the arrangements for the delivery of Universal Credit for severely disabled people are ‘discriminatory’ and “unlawful” on ground three of Leigh Day’s case – i.e. that the:

implementation of universal credit and the absence of any ‘top up’ payments for this vulnerable group as compared to others constitutes discrimination contrary to the European Convention on Human Rights

Read on...

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The DWP disagreed with the judge. It tried to appeal the ruling twice. But both times other judges threw the cases out. Now, as The Canary recently reported, the DWP is fighting a third case around this. But this isn’t the end of the story.

A UK first?

As the Mirror reported in 2019, Leigh Day is bringing a group lawsuit against the DWP. Other claimants have previously joined forces in court against the department. But the size of this case, with over 150 disabled people involved, appears unprecedented.

It centres around the same arguments as Leigh Day’s previous cases. But the firm told The Canary the case could affect up to 15,000 people. It’s specifically for people who made a claim for Universal Credit before 16 January 2019 and were claiming EDP or SDP before that. 16 January 2019 was when the DWP brought in new rules under the ‘SDP Gateway’. The SDP Gateway stops the DWP forcing anyone previously claiming SDP onto Universal Credit without a managed migration process.

“Distress, anxiety, humiliation”

Leigh Day told The Canary it:

will be seeking damages on behalf of its clients for the full amount… claimants lost when they were moved onto Universal Credit. For instance, a single person previously in receipt of both… [EDP and SDP], who has had to claim Universal Credit, will have lost just over £4,000 in the last year alone. This figure increases to nearly £8,000 for a couple.

On top of this the group will also be claiming compensation… for the distress, anxiety, humiliation and disruption to life, which has been caused by the government’s poorly, implemented changes which have led to major upheaval and inconvenience for thousands of people.

As The Canary previously said in 2018, the compensation floodgates could well be open for thousands of people. But the real-world effects of the DWP’s damaging policy cannot be made right by money alone.

“Betrayed”

One woman who is part of the claim lives with mental health conditions. She says the DWP has left her over £2,000 a year worse off under Universal Credit. She told The Canary:

Since losing my disability premiums I have faced eviction and have had additional strain put on my health. I previously had someone to help me clean and do shopping on bad days but now haven’t had this for weeks.

I am fed up with the DWP and I feel betrayed by the Universal Credit system…

Her thoughts probably echo those of countless people across the UK. But for this group of people, there is at least a route to try and hold the DWP to account. What’s needed now is real and systemic change.

The DWP needs an “overhaul”

The Canary asked the DWP for comment. It had not responded by the time of publication.

Leigh Day lawyer Ryan Bradshaw told The Canary:

It is clear that the Universal Credit system is not fit for purpose and will continue to cause suffering to the most vulnerable in society, despite the government’s promise that ‘no-one will be worse off under Universal Credit’. We hope that by bringing these claims we will not just obtain compensation and justice for our clients but also add further weight to the argument that a fundamental overhaul of the social security system in the UK is required before any further harm can be done to our communities.

The weight Leigh Day is piling on the DWP is remarkable. But for this group action to be as effective as it can be, more people need to get involved. So, if you think you might fit the case, get in touch with Leigh Day here. This could be a huge moment in British legal history. And one which could be the undoing of the DWP’s Universal Credit.

Featured image via Dan Perry – Flickr and Wikimedia 

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Get involved

  • Contact Leigh Day if you think you’ve been hit by the changes in this article.

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